North Carolina sees sustainable energy consumer push

North Carolina solar

Solar is still a fledgling industry in North Carolina, but two local entities are making a push to better inform consumers about the real costs of their utility energy and their options for implementing their own solar solutions.

First, the NC Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA), a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to shaping the state’s clean and efficient energy future, uncovered new insights about North Carolina electricity costs in its 2015 report, Understanding the Impact of Electric Choices on North Carolina Residential Electricity Rates and Bills. The report offers transparency into the complex process behind the electricity charges seen on monthly utility bills.

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Since 2001, North Carolina electric ratepayers have seen their monthly bills steadily rise. In an effort to provide consumers increased transparency into the source of increased energy costs and navigate the contents of their energy bills, NCSEA examined NC Utilities Commission (NCUC) information to determine the key drivers affecting consumers’ electric rates by tallying the changes the NCUC has ordered for residential customers’ electricity bills since 2001. The trends in the report – namely, that conventional costs are rising and clean energy costs are nominal – equip all North Carolina customers with accurate information and a clear understanding about where their electric bill charges come from.

The report asserts North Carolina utility consumers are primarily paying for conventional electricity charges in their monthly bills, which in total cost Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress customers an average $107.64 and $106.67 in 2014, respectively. By contrast, the report finds that line items for clean energy policies such as the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS) account for less than $1 per month of those average bills, while also benefiting North Carolina in the form of economic impacts and net cost savings.

“This report confirms that investments in conventional energy sources and maintaining the electric grid make up the vast majority of peoples’ bills,” said Ivan Urlaub, NCSEA’s executive director. “Efficiency programs have to be low cost or they cannot be approved, and achieving our renewable energy targets in 2015 will cost 78 percent less than policymakers had expected. If we didn’t have the REPS and utility efficiency programs, for example, customers would be paying more for electricity today than they already are.”

Findings from ScottMadden and RTI International earlier in 2015 support the cost savings argument for clean energy, with their report concluding that despite rising rates, bills would have been significantly higher without renewables and energy efficiency in North Carolina’s energy mix. The report shows the benefits of clean energy line items to North Carolina ratepayers include $162 million in cost savings since 2007, and an estimated additional $489 million saved by 2029.

“Many customers are under the misconception that clean energy resources are simply an added cost,” said Urlaub. “However, clean energy is actually offsetting conventional energy costs and diversifying our energy mix. This report lets customers know that even though they’re seeing line items on their bills for clean energy resources, they’re still saving on their bills, both now and in the future.”

EnergySageThen, independent of the NCSEA report, the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center at NC State University (NC CETC) formed a partnership with EnergySage to help consumers and businesses make well-informed and profitable decisions about solar energy adoption. The resulting EnergySage North Carolina marketplace enables residents and business owners to quickly research and compare solar options and obtain multiple price quotes from pre-screened solar installers. The marketplace also provides the state’s solar installers access to a large pool of knowledgeable prospective clients, giving them the ability to reduce customer acquisition costs and efficiently grow their businesses.

“It is our mission to advance a sustainable energy economy by educating, demonstrating and providing support for clean energy technologies, practices and policies,” said Steve Kalland, executive director for the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center. “Our collaboration with EnergySage, a fellow recipient of the U.S. Department of Energy supported SunShot grant, is one significant way in which we’re executing on this strategy by helping consumers to become knowledgeable about solar and actively assisting them throughout the research and purchase process.”

The marketplace is a resource for everything from learning about local financial incentives and comparing installers, to obtaining answers to common questions crucial to informed decision-making. Users can also get an instant home or business estimate on the costs of buying, loaning or leasing solar panels, and request customized quotes from local, pre-screened installers for their particular property.

“EnergySage shares the goal of the NC CETC to provide consumers and business owners with the unbiased information and support they need to make the smartest and most profitable decision about solar adoption,” said John Gingrich, senior vice president of partnerships for EnergySage. “We deliver an innovative online tool to help do this—all through one simple platform. Users can easily comparison shop, but, equally important, they can also tap the expertise of our Solar Advisors to get answers to their questions and obtain impartial guidance about the solar options that will be most advantageous for them.”